Interview | Emma Heuston (Tracksuit Economy)

Emma Heuston is a flexible work guru, remote work expert, author and lawyer. Michael Bidwell was fortunate to receive some great insight into the infamous "work life balance"!

1) What is The Tracksuit Economy and why did you start it?

The Tracksuit Economy is my book and business name. I can only take credit for coining the phrase (with the help of my colleague Nicole Wilson) rather than inventing the movement.

It ['the Tracksuit Economy'] describes any type of work that does not fit into the traditional 9 to 5 corporate world or falls outside the definition of "traditional work arrangements". Examples of work that fall within the Tracksuit Economy are remote work (either work from home or co-working spaces), flexible work, freelancing etc.

I have been part of the Tracksuit Economy since 2014 when I began working for both Lexis Nexis as a precedent writer from home and LegalVision as a remote lawyer and subsequent Practice Leader (Partner Equivalent). The reason for me looking for flexible work was the fact that, as a Mum with a young child at that time, I found the traditional corporate style of work did not fit in with me and my family commitments. Rather than continue to make myself miserable by trying to fit into a corporate world that wasn't flexible enough to accommodate me, I made like Gloria Steinem and thought, "why change myself to fit the world, when I can change the world to fit me?"Fast forward to May 2018 and flexible work had only become more of a passion of mine due to the fact that I was working in a flexible and remote role and could see other parents and people wanting to work flexibly struggling with the same problems. It was against this that I released my book, The Tracksuit Economy: How to work productively and effectively from home" (link here)My book details my experiences as a remote worker at LegalVision, including my experiences of working remotely in an industry (the legal industry) where it is not common, managing a team remotely and providing tips for others who also either want to work remotely or those that do and want to be more productive. I also spoke with 15 other remote and flexible workers and include their case studies in the book. The book is essentially about how we can do things differently and that you don't need to be "seen to succeed" in law, provided you have appropriate benchmarks to measure performance in place and adequate technology.

2) As a Practice Leader at LegalVision Australia, what did your work day usually consist of? What does 2019 hold for you?

I have been a Practice Leader in the Leasing and Real Estate team at LegalVision for around 4 years, during which time my average day has not been terribly different to the usual lawyer's day - lots of advices, reviews, drafting and conferences plus managing staff and working on projects. The main differences being that my conferences were via phone or video link and that my commute was down stairs at my house rather than the 45 minute commute each way I used to make in Sydney.

I also made sure I negotiated the ability to structure my day around my son's school routine in my contract and work hours. This meant that I worked part time 3 or 4 days a week during school hours (which I called my "hours of power") and though I was available during business hours outside of 9am - 3pm, it was more for emails and short jobs, rather than complex drafting etc. I have found this worked well for me.

However, in 2019, I am making a change. I am stepping down from my Practice Leader role to launch my employment consulting business which will help candidates to build business cases for flexible work arrangements (The Tracksuit Economy) and also help organisations onboard and retain engagement with remote employees (The Remote Economy). The Tracksuit Economy is up and running (link here) and the Remote Economy will be up and running by April. However, despite my steps toward entrepreneurship, I have much affection for LegalVision and will be staying on in a consultant role.

3) What would you say is essential to being a flexible work guru?

An understanding of the issues that employees and employers face is crucial. I am fortunate to have had experience in both facets as a remote Practice Leader who has also managed staff.

The other essential ingredient is the ability to be a voice for those who are struggling away at their desk, fighting the sobs back as they battle peak hour traffic to get their baby home to feed and bathe the baby, only to get up the next day (after a sleepless night) to do it all again. Things will only change if we speak up and show how much benefit there is to organisations and employees for a change in our system to occur.

After I published my book I hit the publicity circuit and managed to get on the TODAY show with Georgie Gardner and Mark McCrindle to discuss work / life balance and also the Daily Edition on Channel 7. The response has been so heartening and I love seeing that I can make a difference to the way both employees and employers think about work arrangements. In November 2018, I was honoured to receive the Lawyers Weekly Australian Women in Law Thought Leader of the Year Award 2018 for my work in the flexible work space. The recognition within the legal industry has been amazing as I see more Newlaw firms opening up and more flexible and remote work happening.

4) Who is someone that inspires you?

Brene' Brown is an inspiration to me. She is authentic and that is so important in this day and age. The flexible work discussion I am part of is also about authenticity and about being vulnerable. Brene's recent book, "Dare to Lead" shows how you can be a leader within a space like flexible work by finding your voice to speak up and say something different.

5) What is your legal forecast? Where will the legal industry be in five years?

At LegalVision I have been involved in tech projects such as automating documents and artificial intelligence (AI) first hand. The future is exciting and I see much more disruption in the industry over the next 5 years in this area. It is not necessarily bad news for lawyers in terms of job scarcity, but I believe it will require lawyers to broaden their experience (such as developing business management skills) to work alongside the technology developments.

6) What advice would you give to a law student or early career lawyer?

Be open to learning about many areas of law. Don't pigeon hole yourself too early, the more knowledge the better. As an example, in my personal circumstances it saw me practice family law and litigation for 8 years before transitioning to corporate law and estate planning 10 years ago. Without a broad general base this transition would have been much harder for me.

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell.